Not Your Ordinary Pie Filling- Lucky Leaf Trip Details & a Giveaway

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I have a couple of cans of Lucky Leaf pie filling in my cupboard.  I can easily purchase more at my local Super Target.  Without much thought I use the contents to make tasty pies, desserts, and even summer treats.  It’s easy, convenient, and tastes great.

Through my trip to Peach Glen, Pennsylvania, I learned the extent to which Knouse Foods (company that creates Lucky Leaf and Musselman’s products) works to make my simple can of pie filling the absolute best it can be.  Like the fruit they harvest, I was able to peel back the outer layers to see the process from its core.  The inner workings of Knouse Foods is run by a dedicated work force that has absolute passion and faith in the products they produce.  Perhaps their devotion is because this is no conglomerate, but instead a cooperative.  For all you city folks, this means the company is owned by its producers.

In a single day I was able to- view cherries being harvested from the orchard, watch them being delivered and processed at the plant, meet with numerous Knouse employees including the CEO, view the cold store facilities, view and learn about their commitment to green energy and protecting the environment.   What a day!

Let me show you…..

First on our agenda?  A trip to the orchard, of course.

Luckily our trip took place in the midst of the cherry harvest.   Even though I was raised a farm girl, I have no knowledge of orchards.  North Dakota is best suited to the wheat and barley my parents produced rather than an abundance of fruit.

The cherry trees were perfectly ripe and ready to be picked.

Hmmm…but how do you efficiently pick trees plump full of cherries?  Obviously picking them by hand is not an option.  I must admit I was clueless.  That is until I saw the cherry harvester.

This machine is awesome.

It wraps itself around the tree with a giant shield and then shakes the bejesus out of it.  The cherries come raining down on to the shield and by force of gravity roll right onto the conveyer.  Then the cherries are quickly moved into a tractor hauled giant cherry crate.

When the harvester shook the tree I was so surprised I actually laughed out loud.  It was so effective and brilliant.  And of course the cherries look magnificent.

It is essential to keep the cherries cool and firm.  Therefore once a crate is full, a layer of ice is placed on top to ensure they do not become mushy before being processed.

Our group had previously heard that many of the orchards are family run and this certainly proved to be true in our instance.  While visiting the orchard, the owner/farmer was there working as were his three children.  In the midst of this critical harvest time he kindly took a few moments to chat with us.  His daughter one day hopes to take over the orchard, so it appears this family run farm will certainly have a long run.

I’ve never tasted cherries ripe from the tree, as you can imagine they were delicious.  However, these cherries are the tart variety used for processing and not the sweet kind which is for standard snacking.

And while the cherry season is extremely short, lasting typically only one to two weeks, the orchard is full of promises to come.  Apples and peaches abound.  The orchard is beautiful now, but it must be surreal in the fall full of ripe red apples.

The peaches will be harvested around the end of July.  The fruit is coming along nicely.  Look at this beauty.

Following the path of the cherries we next visited the processing plant in Peach Glen.  It took us approximately ten minutes to travel from the orchard to the plant.  That’s how close they are to each other.  The plant itself is its own town surrounded by acres upon acres of orchards.  There is obviously no need to prepare the fruit for long distance travel before being processed.

Of course the processing plant lacked the beauty of the orchard (can anything compare to that!), but I was excited to see the process involved in canning cherry pie filling.  Knouse Foods also has five other plants located in various orchard driven areas.  Peach Glen houses the corporate offices.

As I previously mentioned keeping the cherries properly chilled is very important.  Every little part of the process has been fined tuned to produce the best possible cherry.  Unlike apples which have a larger window of processing time (more about that later), Knouse Foods strives to have cherries from the tree to the can in 72 hours.

plant photos courtesy of Knouse Foods

And just like you might imagine in a processing plant the cherries go through a series of different steps to achieve the final result.  Obviously washing the fruit and attempting to remove all leaves and impurities is important.

Speed is definitely part of this process.  With thousands of bushels of cherries arriving daily, the goal is to push as many cherries through as possible with the utmost care to quality.

With cherries pitting is an important issue.  This giant machine quickly pushes the pit out.  Again making sure the cherries are cold and firm keeps them from becoming mushy.  Quality control helps ensure that pits are not sneaking through the ranks:)

These cherries have come right from the orchard and are now washed, pitted, and ready for canning.   They also still taste really good, as we sampled some right off the belt!

Prior to my visit I had never been inside a canning factory before.  I wondered if I would see the traditional swirling aluminum cans that are such an iconic part of the factory process.  As you can see below, I did indeed see many swirling cans:)  The speed and constant motion was amazing.

In they go!

And just like you might expect from a canning plant- it was loud, hot in some areas and cool in others.  Everyone was focused on their task.  With an operation this large, it is pivotal that every part run smoothly.  A problem in one area will decrease the level of productivity of the entire plant.  Yikes!

The fruit is cooked right in the cans, a fact which I did not know.

Of course there is more to this co-op than just processing plants and orchards.  Nearby we visited Knouse Foods solar fields.  While the roots of the company have been around since the early 1900’s, this is no outdated, time encapsulated group.

Supplying approximately 25% of the annual energy to power the Peach Glen plant, this solar field is environmentally friendly.  Operating in true old-fashioned farmer style, Knouse Foods is dedicated to preserving and replenishing the land.   Rather than a take all you can approach, the company believes in supporting the community and land.

With help from the federal government, these solar fields were established in December of 2010.  Nineteen acres of 14,000 solar panels has helped reduce fossil fuel emissions and dependence.  Knouse Foods is obviously dedicated to continuing this green method.

Here I am hard at work:)

After the solar fields, next up on our agenda was the Cold Storage Facility.  This is where they place apples “to sleep”.  What exactly is putting apples to sleep?  Adjusting the levels of oxygen and nitrogen in the air causes the apples to retain their condition and essentially puts them to sleep.

Why would Knouse Foods need to put apples to sleep?  Why not simply process all the apples at once?  With the needs of their employees in mind, Knouse Foods is able to support full time year round workers, rather than mass numbers of seasonal ones.  Clearly, Knouse Foods is dedicated not only to treating the land well, but also their employees.

Whew!  What a morning!  We were ready for some lunch.  Kindly CEO- Ken Guise and VP of Sales- Dick Esser joined us.  These guys run a huge cooperative, but took over an hour to meet and chat with me and my fellow bloggers.  An orchard owner himself (this is a required part of being a CEO) Mr. Guise was very personable and knowledgeable.

After our lunch, it was off to the Technical Center where they work on environmental concerns and quality control.  As I have mentioned before the employees of Knouse Foods know their stuff.  But I was especially impressed with Director of Technical Services/Quality Assurance Mervyn D’Souza.  I do not have any special knowledge of environmental concerns or product quality operations, but Mr. D’Souza took complicated processes and topics and made them easy to understand.

At this point in our day we were encouraged to sample almost all the varieties of pie filling and Musselman’s products.  Obviously my fellow bloggers and I were more than willing to give them a taste:)

How products are packaged providing the easiest use for customers while decreasing the amount of waste is important to Knouse Foods.  Environmental concerns are at the top of this company’s agenda.  This type of concern is an intuitive part of an agricultural based business, but unfortunately not everyone has the kind of commitment and seriousness in excellence that Lucky Leaf has.

By the way my personal favorites are peach, strawberry, and raspberry.  Yum!

By the end of the day I was sure of a number of things.

1. Knouse Foods employees are good people.  It’s just that simple.  They’re good folks.  And seriously, they made me want to work there.  I have no orchard/processing/office experience, but they made me want to work with them and for them. Never mind the fact I live hundreds of miles away and love good ol’Minnesota.  But being around kind and friendly people is a fun thing.

2.  Knouse Foods is 100% dedicated to doing the right thing- by the environment, by the customer, by the farmer, by everyone.  This is also why I would want to work for Knouse Foods.  Every employee I met believes in the product they produce with passion.  This is what everyone wants from a company and product.  In today’s fast paced money driven economy it can seem hard to find a company willing to take the high road.  Lucky Leaf is that company.

3.  I highly underestimated the level of dedication and work involved in making my simple can of pie filling.  Believe me, I will never look at a can of Lucky Leaf pie filling the same way again:)  But that’s a good thing.  It’s not just a can of easy, tasty pie filling.  It’s a farmer’s hard work and worry, a plant workers careful washing and steady eye, a plant managers smooth operations, a quality control managers precision, an environmentalists concern for others, and a CEO’s years of thoughtful decisions.   Other pie filling companies might make a product that is slightly cheaper, but I know that none can match Lucky Leaf.  The extra cents are definitely worth it when it comes to anything Knouse Foods creates.

While our tour took place near Peach Glen, PA we actually stayed two nights in Gettysburg, PA.  If you are a loyal Mama Report reader you might recall I am a former history teacher.  Yes, I was ecstatic to be in Gettysburg.  Growing up in North Dakota I never had the opportunity to travel on the East Coast.  Charley from Cooke’s Frontier and I had to check out the battlefield.  I especially need to thank Lucky Leaf for graciously taking us to and picking us up from the site.  My Norwegian ancestry, fair skinned complexion does not handle blazing heat very well and there was plenty of it that day.

We also had a wonderful stay at the Historic Hotel Gettysburg.

And a delicious meal at the colonial Dobbin House.

via candlelight of course:)

We even had Lucky Leaf’s very own food stylist show us a few of her tricks.

I definitely have a long way to go!

As a souvenir from our trip Lucky Leaf kindly gave each blogger this cute little set including a new apron, notepad, pen, and cookie.

I’m not going to lie I ate the cookie (it was delicious) and the pen now lives in my purse.   But I thought I would share some of the goodness from my Lucky Leaf adventure with you:)

One lucky Mama Report reader will win this colorful Lucky Leaf apron and cherry notepad.

Please use the Rafflecopter entry method provided.

U.S. only.  Winner will be verified.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

My trip to PA was courtesy of Knouse Foods, all opinions expressed are my own.

Comments

  1. I learned their cherries look beautiful

  2. amy marantino says

    i learned that they take product quality very seriously

  3. I found it interesting that the pie fillings cook INSIDE the can. Also, I didn’t know that they used solar energy to help power their facilities. Still a little confused about “putting the apples to sleep.”

  4. carol gentry says

    , Knouse Foods is able to support full time year round workers, rather than mass numbers of seasonal ones.

  5. Mary Beth Elderton says

    I am thrilled to learn about the integration of solar power.

  6. I did not know they had a 72 hour turnaround from tree to can. Pretty darn good!

  7. sara wicks says

    To find a company that the employees believe in the product is rare nowadays! Impressive buisness to the company 🙂

  8. debbie jackson says

    amazed with 72 hour turnaround time debbie jackson,
    djackson1958 at hotmail dot com

  9. matthew b says

    i like the use of solar paower

  10. elven johnson says

    I learned that they truly care about making a good product.

  11. I learned that the fruit is cooked right in the cans.

  12. Jenny Stanek says

    I learned that they take a lot of care to ensure they are giving you a truly quality product

  13. Sue Hull says

    I learned that they have yr round harvesting not just seasonal. I think it’s great that they really care about their employees. I also learned that apples sleep,very interesting.. Thanks for the all wonderful pics! Thanks for the great giveaway!

  14. Christine says

    a 72 hour turnaround from tree to can

  15. susan hartman says

    The employees of Knouse foods are dedicated. Seems like a great place to work.

  16. mrsshukra says

    Lucky Leaf also has Lite Pie Filling: Lucky Leaf “No Sugar Added” Pie Filling is sweetened with Splenda® No Calorie Sweetener, and has 65% fewer calories than regular pie filling. So you can enjoy the great taste without feeling guilty.

  17. Charlene S says

    The peach glen plant had 14,000 solar panels.

  18. MajaAlic Alc says

    They use solar power . How cool!

  19. I learned that there is little to no seasonal work. Employees are hired year round.

    bgcchs(at)yahoo(dot)com

  20. Michelle S says

    I learned that they have 19 acres of solar panels! wow!

  21. laura ari says

    They are located in PA!

  22. Renee G. says

    That they take pride in what they do.

  23. Michelle H. says

    I learned that they seem to value quality and care for the environment,

  24. Marti Parks says

    I learned that they process the fruit very close to the orchard so there is no long traveling time.

  25. Tammy Hoffa says

    Always wondered how they got them off the tree and no w I know

  26. Meghan Finley says

    I learned Knouse foods established solar fields in December of 2010.

  27. There orchard is amazing and was surprised at how quickly they turn around their product!

  28. Julie O'Brien says

    I was surprised things were turned around so quickly

  29. I learned Knouse foods use 19 acres of solar panels as a green way to make their electric!

  30. Janet Vickers says

    I love their use of solar power

  31. Maggie M. says

    Love that they are dedicated to the environment.

  32. i learned they use solar power!!

  33. I like they use solar power – very cool

    Samantha D
    dull2000 at cox dot net

  34. What a wonderful operation. I appreciate a good pie filling.

  35. That they get 25% of their power from solar panels!

  36. As a North Dakota girl myself, I’ve enjoyed only a couple of fruit trees –chokecherry & plum mostly. Great for jams!! But it really is nice –truly nice, to see others have the same small town/familyness concept to their business ethics. How comforting. Thank you for the little tour!!

  37. twitted this today, 18/7 learned about the solar panels

  38. Kelley F says

    I learned they have a 72 hour turnaround from tree to can.

  39. I learned how dedicated to the environment they are.

  40. I liked that they used solar energy. Also, those cherries really looked good! I am not a big cherry eater but those made me want to be one.

  41. They use solar and the process of putting apples ‘to sleep’! Love the pictures!!!

  42. Diane Sallans says

    I love how environmentally conscious the company is – I’ll be looking for the products when I shop.

  43. Kimberly says

    I was surprised to learn that this is not really a seasonal business.

  44. I learned that products are packaged providing the easiest use for customers.

  45. penny hyde says

    i so love the fact they are commited to maintaining the environment

  46. Knouse Foods employees are good people

  47. Jennifer Winchester says

    cook them in the can

  48. Mary Mac says

    Dedicated to the environment.

  49. I didn’t know the fruit was cooked in the can either! Interesting fact.

  50. laurie brown says

    I learned that they use solor power to power their facilities.your pics looked great

  51. beautiful trip

  52. I love the photos of the cherry trees so cool and I learned that it is a family ran business. Very cool! Thanks for sh aring your cherry bling and great post.

  53. The CEO is required to own an orchard.

  54. Kathleen Greenwell says

    Great blog. I love a completely “green” company. I now want to visit.

  55. I learned that “the cherry season is extremely short, lasting typically only one to two weeks” 🙂 *Thanks* for the giveaway!

  56. i love that they use solar power. it shows they care

  57. It is essential to keep the cherries cool and firm. Therefore once a crate is full, a layer of ice is placed on top to ensure they do not become mushy before being processed.

  58. Christy Anderson says

    I learned how the product is packaged from this post.

  59. Anna Maloy says

    I learned a lot! Obviously, this is a company that cares. A couple of specific things I learned was the solar power usage and the cooking of the fruit in the cans.

  60. I learned that they use solar power.

  61. I didn’t know they were in PA! I think their efforts to go green are awesome.

  62. The fact that this company was kind to you made me want to buy their product. It is important to learn of uncommon kindness.

  63. Connie Bolick Lee says

    I thought it was very interesting to see how cherries are picked and processed.

  64. I love that the fact that they use solar power. Great post, great pictures, thank you.

  65. Alecia H. says

    Environmental concerns are a big priority for them

  66. NW Homesteader says

    Knouse Foods uses nineteen acres of 14,000 solar panels has helped reduce fossil fuel emissions and dependence.

  67. a top priority for their company is enviromental concerns

  68. I didn’t know they used solar power. Very cool.

  69. Christine says

    They use solar power.
    Thanks for the chance!

  70. twitted this today, 29/7

  71. Tonya Froemel says

    I found the part about the solar power very interesting. I love it when companies take care of the environment.

  72. Paul T/Pauline T says

    I learned that Knouse Foods has 5 other plants located in various orchard driven areas – – Paul T/Pauline T aka Paul Tran….. emscout9 at Hotmail dot com

  73. That they get 25% of their power from solar panels. Thanks!

  74. I learned that they are truly trying to have a good product, not just make a profit!

  75. I learned that they use solar power.

  76. Katie Short says

    I learned that this is the kind of company I want to do business with, and an example of what capitalism should be – quality product, proud workers, and a loyal customer base.

  77. I learned that they’re environmentally friendly. Very cool!

  78. Knouse is committed to green technology by way of solar panels. You pictorial is highly educational, have you considered making a presentation for school kids, maybe on PowerPoint? Terrific pics!

  79. The fruit is cooked right in the cans, a fact which I did not know

  80. Misses Giveaways says

    I did not know that knouse food was so environment friendly.

  81. learned that the cherry season is only one to two weeks long

  82. wow the turn around time from tree to can is so fast, really surprised me!

  83. Celia Fisher says

    Cute apron!

  84. Gail Panacci says

    Knouse employs dedicated employees, commits to a quality product & cares for the environment.

  85. they are environment friendly and it also makes me want to can some of my own food now

  86. They are powered by solar power

  87. Stephanie O'Malley says

    I learned that Lucky Leaf and Mussleman’s is owned by the same company

  88. Lovely facility. I would love to visit myself.

  89. I had no idea the fillings were cooked in the cans.

  90. Cari Leary says

    We love it!

  91. Hesper Fry says

    I learned that Knouse Foods strives to have cherries from the tree to the can in 72 hours.

  92. Operating in true old-fashioned farmer style, Knouse Foods is dedicated to preserving and replenishing the land.

    alholm.co at gmail dot com

  93. kathy pease says

    the cherry season is extremely short, lasting typically only one to two weeks,

  94. I love how they use solar power and how they cook the fruit right in the can!

  95. Melissa Shirley says

    They have to keep the cherries cool and firm.
    melissalucky43@yahoo.com

  96. I learned about their integration of solar power.

  97. learned that they have year round harvesting not just seasonal

  98. I didn’t know they were in Gettysburg (a 5 hr drive for me) and didn’t know they used solar power. How cool!

  99. natalia ryjova says

    They put their apples to sleep!

  100. Bonnigene says

    I learned they used solar power and I had no idea that there were so many varieties of pie filling made by lucky leaf!

  101. Ginger H. says

    I learned that Knouse Foods is “100% dedicated to doing the right thing – by the environment, by the customer, by the farmer, by everyone.”

  102. Aimee Sanborn says

    They have 19 acres of 14000 solar panels! Pretty awesome

  103. Angela Neynaber says

    I learned that Lucky Leaf is made in Peach Glen, Pennsylvania.

  104. That the harvester shook the tree, pretty interesting!

  105. brenda Elsner says

    I think all the solar panals are just amazing. 14,000!!

  106. Chrissy Nestor says

    I learned that they have more floavors than I thought.

    chrissylea1979 (at)gmail(dot)com

  107. I didn’t know anything about the solar fields they have.

  108. I had actually never heard of Lucky Leaf before, so this is all new to me, but the thing I found most fascinating is the cherry picker! I had no idea that’s how cherries were harvested! That’s a really impressive machine and I would love to see it in action!

  109. I learned they are using solar energy to meet about 25% on their Peach Glen plant power needs.
    rsgrandinetti@yahoo(DOT)com

  110. Christianna Streeter says

    They use solar power and they hire full time employees

  111. I learned that they put a layer of ice on the cherries to make sure they don’t get mushy.

  112. Sarah Yurga says

    I learned that the employees are not seasonal – they work all year long

  113. Tanya White says

    I learned that they had a 72 hour turnaround from tree to a can

  114. Unlike apples which have a larger window of processing time (more about that later), Knouse Foods strives to have cherries from the tree to the can in 72 hours.

  115. susan smoaks says

    i love that they use solar power and take good care of their workers

  116. Martin Pippin says

    Using solar power is Good

  117. carol lewis says

    I grew up right by there! This is a great post to see the land, this well-known company, and Gettysburg! I haven’t been back in 31 years. Fun to see their system and all the yummy fruit.
    I didn’t know they do so much green technology.

  118. Samantha Arnold says

    Love that they take environmental concerns into account!

  119. Sara Wood says

    I never knew Lucky Leaf had raspberry pie filling! yum

  120. Robert Pyszk says

    I like how they use solar power 😀

  121. Ann Council says

    I enjoyed the cherry tree to customer process. Especially the machine that shakes the tree and the cheeries just fall down in all their red splendor.

  122. Laura Collins says

    I like the use of solar power

  123. Great story about how the product ends up in the can.

  124. They get canned super fast!

  125. 72 hour turnaround from tree to can

    freebiegoddess03@aol.com

  126. who knew they used solar panels?! i noticed those right off because we have been shopping around for them for ourselves!

  127. I learned they’re concerned about the environment, I also learned you at the cookie. 🙂 Thanks for the opportunity

  128. I did not totally understand how the whole cherry picking process worked. It is nifty to learn they are enviromentally concerned too

  129. I learned that It is essential to keep the cherries cool and firm. Therefore once a crate is full, a layer of ice is placed on top to ensure they do not become mushy before being processed.

  130. Thanks for the great photos..so interesting! I learned that Knouse Foods strives to have cherries from the tree to the can in 72 hours.

  131. Laurie Emerson says

    I learned and love that they use Solar Power. What a great Eco-friendly company!
    lauraemerson17 at yahoo dot com

  132. Knouse Foods is 100% dedicated to doing the right thing, for the environment and for its employees.

  133. Charlene Kuser says

    I learned that Knouse Foods strives to have cherries from the tree to the can in 72 hours.

  134. Peggy Rydzewski says

    19 acres of solar panels

  135. Tina white says

    Solar power! Awesome!

  136. I had no idea they had so many varieties of pie filling! Wow!

  137. Buddy Garrett says

    Knouse Foods are able to support year round workers rather than seasonal workers.

  138. What are all the flavors I can’t read the cans in the back, my grocery store doesn’t have that many flavors

    • I didn’t realize all the varieties they make as well. There are some that are only sold in select markets. Check out the full list of options available by visiting the site below. Feel free to write to Lucky Leaf, if you like a particular kind. I’m sure they will point you in the right direction.

      http://www.luckyleaf.com/products/piefilling.aspx

Trackbacks

  1. […] on a special meaning for me, as I know exactly what it takes to create a seemingly simple can of Lucky Leaf Cherry Pie Filling.  I love knowing I’m giving my family such a thoroughly high quality […]

  2. […] had the privilege of watching the entire process of how those tasty cherries end up in a Lucky Leaf can, therefore I can say that I’m a little partial to the cherries.  But my oldest son loves […]

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